Patrick Smyth hasn’t even been competitively trail running for two years yet. However, he’s already taken second at the US Mountain Running Championships last year, placed 10th at the 2014 World Mountain Running Championships, and set a new course record at the Way Too Cool 50k earlier this year. In the following interview, Pat talks about how he came to trail running, what’s surprised him along the way, how he’s adapted his training for the trails, and where he stands coming into this weekend’s USMRC.
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Patrick Smyth Pre-2015 US Mountain Running Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Pat Smyth before the 2015 US Mountain Running Championships. How are you, Pat?
Patrick Smyth: Doing well.
iRunFar: You ran the US Mountain Running Championships last year and took second. How did that go?
Smyth: Yeah. It was a tough race. It was my first trail or mountain race ever, so it was definitely… I got thrown into the fire real quick. It was an uphill year, and the course was extremely uphill as I quickly found out, but it was fun. I kind of battled it out with Joe Gray, and he was just a way better grinder on the uphills and way more experienced. I was happy to finish second. I was totally exhausted. I gave it everything. The course definitely took its toll on me.
iRunFar: A couple months later you must have recovered and changed something because you had a really good run at worlds.
Smyth: Yeah, I think it was one of those things and I think similar here in that they did a good job of replicating the worlds course at the U.S. championships. It wasn’t such a surprise to get to Italy and have another ridiculous course that was just super technical. We were climbing up steps, and then we were climbing up really tight switchbacks and rocky, craggy stuff. Then we finished in a marble quarry. It was just nuts with ridiculous vertical the whole time. It was good that I had the primer at Loon Mountain. Then Italy wasn’t such a shock, and I was able to have a pretty good showing there.
iRunFar: You were 10th there, correct?
iRunFar: Having seen the first race, did you do any specific training to get you ready for that second go?
Smyth: Yeah, I definitely hit some more long, sustained vertical climbs. Before I had been doing or thought I had to hit some short hill repeats. I started, you’re familiar with Salt Lake City, I started doing some long runs up City Creek Canyon just to get that long, sustained, grind-uphill simulation. So it was little bit different training to prepare me for the Italy race.
iRunFar: Since then, you’ve dabbled in a bunch of things. You’ve done some road running and you’ve done some really fast ultrarunning. You gave it a go at Speedgoat last July which didn’t go so well.
Smyth: No. I’m glad that this weekend overlapped with that weekend this year pretty well, so I didn’t have to think about it. It was like, Oh, mountain championships.
iRunFar: Then you ran Way Too Cool in the spring and set a course record and won. That’s pretty awesome.
Smyth: Yeah, it’s funny. I think Way Too Cool and Speedgoat are about as polar opposite of 50k’s as you can get in the 50k world. Yeah, the Speedgoat one was… I was totally ill-equipped for that one and got totally, and Way Too Cool was kind of really suited to me. It’s like this perfect, smooth, buttery singletrack the whole way, and I had a good run there.
iRunFar: Did anything go wrong there or do you think you had it totally dialed?
Smyth: I think I had it really dialed at that point. I was doing some good, hilly long runs, and my speed was okay at that point, and I was healthy. I’d just qualified for the world cross-country team, so I knew everything was really clicking. I just got into the zone at that race.
iRunFar: You’re doing stuff like world cross country and running in international championships there. You’re doing 50k on the trail. You ran a 1:03 half just recently. How are you getting all of those components together and preparing yourself for this?
Smyth: Yeah, it hasn’t been easy. After cross and Way Too Cool at the end of March, I think it all crept up on me doing such varied stuff. I had a little injury that just went on for a couple months. I couldn’t quite get rid of that. I finally got things back on track and then was just… because the injury was kind of trail, well, would get flared up when I ran trails, I was like, I’ve got to do some road racing to get myself fit. I also wanted to get the Olympic Trials Marathon standard by running the half in under 65 minutes. So it kind of worked out well that, This is all I can do right now. It will serve its purpose as well.
iRunFar: So are you feeling fit?
Smyth: Yeah, fit now. I came off of that 63:20 half in Minnesota at the end of June pretty well and then had to move… I just moved to Santa Fe, but training there has gone really well. I’m kind of working in with the group of the woman who won the Boston Marathon this spring and hitting a lot of track sessions. I hadn’t touched the track in a long time, but I feel like my speed is good again and my endurance is good. I like my chances.
iRunFar: You’re feeling ready to give it a go. I assume you’ll be going for that win having been pretty close last year?
iRunFar: How do you take it to Joe? Joe Gray has so much experience, and he’s won this a number of times. You didn’t get him last year. What’s it going to take?
Smyth: I think I just have to… I respect Joe tremendously. He’s enormously talented on the climbs and the descents. I think this year I’m going to just kind of maybe let him dictate the race a little bit and maybe see what kind of moves he’s making and follow and try not to just run away with it at the beginning. It’s going to have to be… I think I’ll kind of temper my enthusiasm in the early goings especially since it’s a three-loop course and all the loops are pretty brutal.
iRunFar: Yeah, 850 feet of climb per mile basically.
Smyth: Right, and then a screaming downhill.
iRunFar: A screaming downhill which… do you think it’s advantageous to you? It’s a non-technical, long road descent.
Smyth: Yeah, actually I haven’t… I’m going to go check out the course later, but from what I’ve heard, yeah, it should suit me pretty well. I like running downhill especially when it’s not super technical. I think I just have to be careful not to wipe out. I still kind of have that governor that a lot of long-time mountain and trail guys like Joe seem to have gotten rid of completely. They can bomb down anything.
iRunFar: Have you worked on that specifically? How do you get past that because it is a limiter? You can work as hard as you can to stay with Joe on the climbs, but if he can just let that fly wheel go…
Smyth: Yeah, no, that’s a huge thing. I can’t really say that I’ve worked on it to the point that it’s not a problem anymore. I still have some hesitation when these other guys, even Max [King], just hammer it on the downhills. I think I’ve just got to focus on what my strengths are and that’s being able to always be in contact then get some room to run and really try to let it go.
iRunFar: It could all come down to that last downhill. It’s downhill to the finish. You’ve got to be ready. Somebody is going to be rolling out sub-4:30 on that final descent.
Smyth: Probably, yeah. It’s nice that it will be doubletrack. It’s nice that it won’t be so tight that you can’t move around.
iRunFar: You can pass for sure, but it’s going to be a little loose on that, too. Taking the turns could be interesting.
Smyth: Yeah, there’s enough space. Yeah, it could be interesting. There could be some bloody bodies at the end there.
iRunFar: Probably. So how did you go from your road and track background… how did you decide, I’m going to start… why did you do the US Mountain Running Championships last year?
Smyth: The very first trail race I did was XTERRA U.S. Nationals in 2013 up in Ogden, Utah, and had a good run there. I won that race, and then got tied in with the Nike trail group that was just starting at that point. I started really loving the trails again. I’d been on the track and the road for so long and had tried to move up to the marathon and got really burned out trying to put all my marbles into that. I found the trails and kind of reinvigorated my love for the sport again. This is awesome. The atmosphere is so much more low-key and loose and fun. Yeah, I just was really enjoying it again. It was easy to make the transition. I can both still be competitive and enjoy it.
iRunFar: You saw some success early with the Ogden race, but then you went to Hawaii and beat Joe [Gray] and Max [King].
Smyth: Yeah, that was a tough race. That was where I just realized that, yeah, it takes a different set of skills to be very good at this kind of racing.
iRunFar: Before you made the change to the trails, when you were younger and growing up running cross country and track, were you doing some trail stuff?
Smyth: Yeah, I grew up in Salt Lake City, so I was always getting up on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail or up the seven canyons that kind of circle the city there. So I did a lot in my high-school days and even college when I’d come back for summers, I’d do a lot of trail running, but it was never my focus. That’s been the difference these last couple years; I just made it my focus.
iRunFar: You’ve done a pretty good job so far. Best of luck on Saturday.
Smyth: Hey, thank you.